Lobster Banh Mi serves classic sandwiches at a remarkable price

Shyla Enoul's Lobster Banh Mi serves a variety of classic Vietnamese sandwiches. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Shyla Enoul's Lobster Banh Mi serves a variety of classic Vietnamese sandwiches. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

If I told you there’s a delightful Vietnamese lady serving the banh mi of her Saigon childhood in Duluth, would you care?

What if I told you she bakes perfect, soft-crusty baguettes, whips up her own mayo, and sells a first-class lobster banh mi for $10?

After opening 12 restaurants, from Washington, D.C., to Woodstock, Shyla Enoul knows a thing or two about sales and branding. She knows Americans equate lobster with luxury and nostalgia (from expensive Maine lobster rolls to Red Lobster). She drives a lobster-colored Mercedes SUV, and keeps it parked under a wavy orange sign that announces the name of both her counter-service cafe and its signature sandwich: Lobster Banh Mi.

Enoul is a self-described workaholic who’s spent her 56 years getting out of Vietnam, acquiring a college education, raising and home-schooling her three children, and starting business after business. Now, she’s crossing her fingers that Lobster Banh Mi, which offers 12 sandwiches stuffed with everything from curry chicken and meatloaf to French charcuterie and seafood, will be a grand success. She dreams of growing it into a global chain.

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Lobster Banh Mi in Duluth sells its namesake sandwich for $9.95. As you can see, it’s a real beauty. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Lobster Banh Mi in Duluth sells its namesake sandwich for $9.95. As you can see, it’s a real beauty. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Combined ShapeCaption
Lobster Banh Mi in Duluth sells its namesake sandwich for $9.95. As you can see, it’s a real beauty. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

For now, she rises early to bake the bread, and to run a kitchen that builds sandwiches just like the nuns did at her Catholic school in Saigon. This was before the city fell to communists in 1975, before her dad was locked away in a re-education camp for fighting on the wrong side. (Her family finally bought their way out, by trading their home for passports, in 1986.)

Enoul, who also owns John Pho ‘N Bar in Flowery Branch, hasn’t been able to staff Lobster Banh Mi the way she’d like. She needs a manager and hopes eventually to open every morning at 9.

I mention this, lest you show up hungry and have to wait a few minutes for her to toast a baguette and build your sandwich. While you chill, you may enjoy a glass of Vietnamese iced coffee or Thai milk tea, or nibble on a classic egg roll, stuffed with minced chicken, veggies and vermicelli. Like that $10 lobster banh mi, the peppery, fried-to-order cha gio are an incredible value, at $1 a pop.

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Shyla Enoul, a native of Saigon, is the owner and chef at Lobster Banh Mi. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Shyla Enoul, a native of Saigon, is the owner and chef at Lobster Banh Mi. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Combined ShapeCaption
Shyla Enoul, a native of Saigon, is the owner and chef at Lobster Banh Mi. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

I first stopped by on a mission, to see if rumors of a $10 Vietnamese lobster roll possibly could be true. While not piled, American lobster roll-style, with claw and knuckle meat, the banh mi was a paragon of freshness and simplicity. A respectable amount of shredded lobster came together with mayo, crunchy cucumber and celery, and plenty of cilantro to create something like lobster salad on a baguette. Turns out, this is how a proper banh mi should be assembled.

“A balanced banh mi resembles a salad in a sandwich,” writes Andrea Nguyen, in her 2019 cookbook, “Vietnamese Food Any Day.” As Enoul told me, the banh mi, one of the genius recipes born out of the horror of French colonization, was a cheap, go-to item eaten by working class Vietnamese. The sandwich may have changed on its journey to America, but, in its original form, it was made with a generous pile of herbs and veggies, and “very limited meat,” she said.

The chef knows, however, that Americans love their lobstah. Some customers have let it be known that they’d like a little more, and she has a plan to satisfy their cravings. For $5, she’ll double the lobster. She’ll double the shrimp, salmon or crab for $4, and the remaining proteins for $3. Think of these unadvertised, loaded banh mi as secret menu items. If you know, you know.

On my second stop, I grabbed a bag of sandwiches to go. Top marks go to the double lobster (with plenty of choice morsels), the crab, and the French combo. The latter is the only sandwich for which Enoul doesn’t create everything from scratch. She imports the liver pate and the French jambon, and has enlisted a Norcross company to steam Vietnamese pork roll in a banana leaf, using her recipe.

l suspect this stellar sandwich is a good bit like the banh mi she remembers from Saigon. In its way, it’s every bit as heavenly as the lobster, and carries an equally miraculous price tag: $4.95.

Have I persuaded you yet?

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

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Lobster Banh Mi is Shyla Enoul’s 12th restaurant. She also owns John Pho ’N Bar in Flowery Branch. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Lobster Banh Mi is Shyla Enoul’s 12th restaurant. She also owns John Pho ’N Bar in Flowery Branch. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Combined ShapeCaption
Lobster Banh Mi is Shyla Enoul’s 12th restaurant. She also owns John Pho ’N Bar in Flowery Branch. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock


LOBSTER BANH MI

Menu: Vietnamese sandwiches and daily specials

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: lobster, crab, shrimp, pork, Singapore sausage, curry chicken, French combo and Spam banh mi; egg rolls; Vietnamese coffee

Service options: dine-in, takeout or delivery via GrubHub and DoorDash

Outdoor dining: no

Mask policy: yes, for staff and guests

Address, phone: 3095 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Duluth; 770-910-7175

Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. every day

Website: lobsterbanhmi.com

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